Originally, Mahabaleshwar was created as a summer capital so that British sahibs and memsahibs, stationed in the Bombay Presidency, could escape the heat of the Indian summer. Now, except for the monsoons when some hotels down their shutters, Mahabaleshwar is a round-the-year holiday destination. In fact, it is something that you are expected to do over a weekend.
At the beginning of January this year, we took a short break and drove off to Mahabaleshwar. We decided that we were not going to drive around from one ‘point’, as the various peaks are called, to another. Instead we were going to relax and get charged to face the coming year.
Mahabaleshwar town itself is a quaint, charming but overcrowded. Some of the establishments are really old and trace their origin to the 19th century.
Like, Elsie’s Dairy & Bakery, which has been around since 1849 and is currently run by the fourth or fifth generation of the original owners. The cakes and patties that we sampled were delectable and the owners warm and friendly.
Another 19th century landmark is the Holy Cross Church, which was set up in 1831. It is located at the edge of the town and is very well maintained. For a small town church, it is buzzing with activity throughout the day.
Mapro Foods appears to dominate the local economy, with every block of the small town having a Mapro Sales counter. I guess it some franchisee operation but the presence of Mapro is ubiquitous. In fact, even before you enter Mahabaleshwar, on the way up from Pune, you come across the Mapro Gardens, where you get some scrumptious serving of strawberries with cream and strawberry ice cream.
Besides the town itself, what makes Mahabaleshwar so very attractive as a holiday destination is its natural beauty. The various points that Mahabaleshwar is so famous for a consequence of the rugged mountain ranges that abound in the area. Shivaji the great Maratha warrior operated in this district and the ruins of one of his forts, Pratapgadh is visited by tourists.
We did not make it to Pratapgadh on this visit but we could got a glimpse of the fort when we visited Arthur’s Seat, which is located in a forest reserve near old Mahabaleshwar. When you view the rugged terrain from Arthur’s Seat, what comes to your mind is pictures of the Grand Canyon. Perhaps, if some Hollywood producer had come across this place we would have watched Satara Westerns instead of Spaghetti Westerns.
Accordingly to authoritative sources, this vantage point is named after a Britisher, Arthur Mallet who fist built a house in the area. However, if you believe the local guides who abound in all tourist destinations, the place got its name because King Arthur used to hunt in this area. You decide which source sounds more romantic, but visit you must!
On the way up to Arthur’s Seat, there are a number of secondary points. Like, Monkey Point that derives its name from the rock formations that resemble monkeys and Tiger’s spring, which is supposed to be the source of the Savitri river. The popular belief is that the waters of the spring have divine powers. There is an old woman who dispenses water from the spring to the tourists. And she does it as a service. You pay out of your generosity and she does not accept charity. You have to drink the water or she will not accept any money.
Another high point when visiting Arthur’s seat is the gastronomical in nature. Once you descend from the mountains, you go up another mountain to the Ramkush Resort where you attack a large ‘thali‘ of food, with unlimited servings. And whilst waiting to be served, take in some spectacular views of the surrounding valley.
We were very lucky to go to Mahabaleshwar during the strawberry season. And we got to visit two strawberry farms. And a chance to buy freshly picked strawberries. At half the price we would have paid in Mumbai.
Whilst on gastronomical matters, the corn patties and corn frankies for which Mahabaleshwar is famous along with the strawberries. The entrepreneur in our picture has been in this business for years as was his father before him.
And at the end of the day, after you have trekked around to some point or the other, eaten the local farm produce like corn or freshly picked carrots and radish or borras, or amla, then had a good lunch, a nap and tea, there is one thing left to do. And that is to watch the sun setting. We watched the sun setting behind Saddleback mountain. At least that is the name that we were given by the guest relationship lady at the resort we stayed in.
We plan to go again to Mahabaleshwar later this year or early next year and see some of the things we missed on this visit. But mostly, like the sahibs and memsahibs of yore, we plan to relax and recharge.
Today we’re on M of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.